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Updated: June 10, 2024 Advice

10 Things I know about ... Pregnancy in the workplace

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Chelsie Vokes is a labor and employment lawyer at Worcester law firm Bowditch & Dewey.


10) Pregnant workers will soon have more legal power so they can work safely and deal with health conditions. Regulations interpreting the federal Pregnant Workers Fairness Act go into effect on June 18.

9) Federal pregnancy protection rules were way out of date. When Congress passed PWFA last year, it marked the first major expansion of pregnant workers’ rights in more than four decades. While Massachusetts updated its law in 2018, the federal regulations contain new rules.

8) The law does not just apply to pregnant workers. It covers childbirth and conditions related to reproductive health, including menstruation, infertility, endometriosis, and postpartum depression.

7) Abortion accommodations, including leave to have the procedure, are explicitly required by the law, and it’s incredibly controversial. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission decided to include abortion protections in its final regulations, but now 17 states – all with Republican attorneys general – are suing the government.

6) Pregnant workers and other eligible employees will have the right to ask their bosses to waive essential job functions temporarily. They may be excused from tasks such as lifting heavy objects.

5) Eligible employees may get some accommodations automatically. These include taking more bathroom breaks, getting access to food and water more often, and being allowed to sit or stand more.

4) Eligible employees may ask to work remotely or request a shift in hours, if they need to go to a doctor’s appointment or suffer from morning sickness.

3) The law applies to eligible job applicants. Employers need to make accommodations for interviews, but they should not ask anything about pregnancy.

2) Employers will need to expand their training programs. People who direct employee tasks, even if they aren’t supervisors, need to know how to respond to requests.

1) Not all businesses need to comply. Those with fewer than 15 employees are exempt federally, but those with more than six must comply with state law.

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